|Apollo is the god of light, and therefore of inspiration, which does for the soul what light does for
-- C. M. Bowra, The Greek Experience, p. 56.
No less powerful was the influence which the Greek scene had on the Greek eye and the Greek mind. The traveler
who comes from the west or the north to Greece for the first time may feel a slight twinge of disappointment at the nakedness of its outline
and its lack of exuberant color, but he will soon see that he is faced by a commanding beauty which makes no ready concessions to his appreciation
but forces itself slowly and unforgettably on him. What matters above all is the quality of the light. ... the light forbids the shifting, melting,
diaphanous effects which give so delicate charm to the French or the Italian scene, it stimulates a vision which belongs to the sculptor more than
to the painter.
... in the depths of the light there
is blackness, but it is a blackness which throbs with violet -- a magnetic
unwearying ultraviolet throb. This confers a sort of brilliant shine of
white light on material objects, linking near and far, and bathing simple
objects in a sort of celestial glowworm hue. It is the naked eyeball of
God, so to speak, and it blinds one.
Everything here speaks now, as it did
centuries ago, of illumination, of blinding, joyous illumination. Light
acquires a transcendental quality: it is not the light of the Mediterranean
alone, it is something more, something unfathomable, something holy. Here
the light penetrates directly to the soul, opens the doors and windows
of the heart, makes one naked, exposed, isolated in a metaphysical bliss
which makes everything clear without being known. No analysis can go on
in this light: here the neurotic is either instantly healed or goes mad.
I had forgotten about that light. I had
forgotten the numberless evenings I'd sat on the same terrace, alone or
with friends, watching it change, wrapped in that expanse of rose gold
The luminous clarity of the air, especially
in Attica, is quiete extraordinary, and we know how often this clarity
was referred to by the Greek poets, who saw it as a perfect token and
symbol of the happy life. But there is a price to be paid for this wounderful
which renders Greece's mountains, villages, and soil buoyant and immaterial
is the light. In Italy the light is soft and feminine, in Ionia extremely
gentle and full or oriental yearning, in Egypt thick and voluptuous. In
Greece the light is entirely spiritual. Able to see clearly in this light,
man succeeded in imposing order over chaos, in establishing a "cosmos"
-- and cosmos means harmony."
The Mediterranean sun has something tragic about it, quite different from the tragedy of fogs.
...While some travelers marvel at Greek light throughout the islands and mainland, for me, it's at its most remarkable in the Cycladic Islands. The island of Delos, sacred as the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo (who is, after all, the God of Light) is where the experience of Greek Light is strongest. There the Greek Light doesn't reflect off of whitewashed buildings but off of the vast sunbleached marble remains of this remarkable island city.
...What makes Greek light in general seem so special? The combination of small masses of land dotted against the Aegean Sea, high island vantage points and steep cliffs which lets the observer perceive the light falling from the sun while more light simultaneously reflects back up off the sea, the neutral browness of the landscape, especially in summer, and the sparkling white of the simple Cycladic houses. It's magic, and it's not to be found in any guide book or monitor screen: it must be seen to be believed.
While "Greek Light" shines on all
over Greece every day of the year, it's at its undeniable peak during
summer. Fall mutes it slightly but any clear day will give you at least
a taste of this special gift to travelers to Greece
... it lies bathed in a light such as the eye
has never yet beheld, and in which it rejoices as though now first awakening
to the gift of sight. This light is indescribably keen yet soft. It brings
out the smallest details with a clarity, a gentle clarity that makes the
heart beat higher and enfolds the nearer view in a transfiguring veil--I
can describe it only in these terms. Once can compare it to nothing except
|Last modified 7/26/15; posted 1/10/2000; original content © 2000, 2015John P. Nordin|